Now, it may seem silly that a grown woman wistfully remember dressing up in robes with a lion hat perched on her head, real-live radishes hooked on her earrings, and a cork necklace around her neck, waiting impatiently for a brick of a book to be released, and I will not blame you if you laugh at that idea. But, for that young woman, that day - July 21, 2007 - was one she had dreamed of and lived toward for many, many years.
It is that idea of living toward that intrigues me today. When I think back to that young woman, waiting with her friends in her costume for a book to be released, I realize how happy she was to be living toward the moment that book would be placed in her hands. So much excitement had led up to this moment: hours spent discussing and debating what had happened in prior books, and what could possibly happen in this one; even more hours reading and rereading each page of each book, reliving the stories as if for the first time. All of those hours, days, years, had been spent living toward the release of this seventh and final book, when all would be revealed and the story would be concluded.
When she received that book, was the excitement over? No…but she began living toward something new…the next chapter, and the next, then the end of the book, then the conversations that would come. Some new thing to live toward appeared, and she followed along the path toward those new things. And other things, not related to Harry Potter, certainly followed. College graduation, acceptance into graduate school, attending graduate school, marriage…the list goes on.
In our lives, we are accustomed to living toward things. Our next birthday, the conclusion of a school project, prom, graduation, marriage. One thing follows when another is concluded, and we are rarely left with nothing to look forward to.
It is the living toward that is exciting, isn't it? When I looking forward to the final Harry Potter book, those moments of living toward were (dare I say it?) more exciting than the actual living of it. It was more thrilling to imagine what might be in the book, than to read what was in the book. But the danger of it is that we might become too enthralled in the imagining that when that thing we have been living toward arrives and passes…we do not know what to do next.
My senior year of high school, I spent weeks on a major project for my literature class. It was a project and presentation I had looked forward to doing since my sophomore year. My every thought was about this project - what work needed to be completed, what work had been completed and if it needed to be edited, how I would present it, what I would wear when I presented it. My whole existence became centered around living toward this project. When the presentation concluded, suddenly I had nothing. I had forgotten about prom, forgotten about graduation and college…I had forgotten that I needed to live toward something else next.
So what happens when that thing we have been living toward disappears? If the seventh Harry Potter book had been canceled, never to be released, what would I (and so many others) have done with all the anticipation that had been building? If the project I had prepared for suddenly had been canceled due to unforeseen circumstances, what would I have done with all of that preparation?
I've recently been struggling with this problem. Following marriage and graduation from divinity school, I have been living toward having a family. It has become my all-focused goal. After all, it is what we are supposed to do, right? Graduate, find a job, get married, start a family. But when miscarriage followed miscarriage, and the expected ease of having a child proved unrealistic, I found myself with nothing to live toward.
Saying "nothing" is perhaps an overstatement. I have everyday goals and happinesses. I certainly live toward each evening when my husband came home, toward ordination into Christian ministry, toward many other things….but that central thing that I was living toward had seemingly vanished. How do you move forward when the rug has been completely swept from underneath you? How do you keep standing, keep living? How do you seek out that next truly meaningful thing to live toward?
It has been, and continues to be, a complete life adjustment. There are only so many days one can set aside to crying in bed and waiting for life to cooperate with your expectations. And so, lately I have been seeking out new things to live toward. They've been small, but have managed to fill that space in my life. Cataloguing our entire 500+ book library. Learning how to fix and sew on a 1920s-era treadle sewing machine. Rediscovering the utter joy of reading for pleasure. Finding a job.
I'm not entirely sure what I am living toward these days. Perhaps it is finding those simple life pleasures that make you smile. Or perhaps it is seeking out something new to live toward. Living toward something to live toward.